Ask Dr. Nerdlove by Harris O'Malley

Help! My Boyfriend Is Polyamorous… And I’m Not.

DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I need some advice. My boyfriend and i have been dating for nearly 2 years, and I’m absolutely 100% in love with him, and he is with me. He’s truly an amazing man. The only problem is that he thinks he is polyamorous and I know that I am not.

We tried adding another couple into our sex lives before, and it did make me a little bit uncomfortable, but not much. I’ve been hurt by previous partners, and I have high anxiety and jealousy levels. He and I went through a situation with another woman. Nothing physical could’ve happened because she’s across the country, but I was still very hurt by him falling in love with someone else. We’ve been trying to move on from this situation, and things have been going well. Now he’s saying he wants to just forget about being polyamorous. I keep saying that I’m willing to keep and open mind, and keep trying with him. Maybe we moved too quickly with the couple we invited over, or maybe our relationship was still too new. But he just wants to forget about it.

My fear is that eventually he will come to resent me for not supporting who he is. How can I make this situation benefit the both of us? I know that being poly is a part of who you are and it’s not something you can just forget about. I don’t want him to be miserable. Nor do I want to sacrifice my feelings and be miserable instead.


DEAR MONOAMOROUS: Someone needs to call Sir Mixx-A-Lott because this is an example of what I call a Big But letter. Everyone’s crazy in love, everybody’s perfect… and then you get to the big BUT that immediately invalidates all of the preceding greatness.  In your case, you love your amazing boyfriend and he’s incredible… except for this one conflict you have. A conflict that’s rooted at the core of who you both are as people.

Those are sometimes the most frustrating problems to have because… well, it’s just who you are and who they are. It feels like things should work because there’s so much else about the two of you that does. But while not everything needs to line up to make a relationship work in the long run, sometimes the one thing that doesn’t is big enough and significant enough to render the rest irrelevant. It feels like something you should be able to get past or work through… but doing so comes at the cost of scouring your soul with sandpaper and rolling yourself in broken glass.

The problem here isn’t that you didn’t put in enough effort, Monoamorous, nor is it a case of you tried things too early. The problem is that his relationship and attachment style is inimical to yours. You and he simply have entirely different needs from one another and they’re bumping up against each other in ways that cause the whole operation to grind to a halt. Being poly isn’t about swinging or having sex with other folks in the room, it’s about having concurrent, emotionally intimate relationships. That’s the sort of thing that requires partners to have an incredible amount of trust and closeness with one another, as well as an ability to advocate for your own emotional needs. You need to be able to navigate jealousy — because that’s still going to be a thing, even in poly relationships — talk through your feelings with one another and navigate the incredibly rocky shores that come with trying to manage more than one relationship.

And it doesn’t sound like that’s something that you can do. Not without making yourself miserable in the process… and that’s not going to be fair to you or your boyfriend. Because if he is polyamorous… well, he’s not going to be “forgetting” about this any time soon. He may choose not to act on it, but he’ll still be falling for other people. That part is always going to be there. If his having feelings for another person — even if nothing could ever happen — was enough to hurt you, then this is going to end up hurting you both. And what’s the most frustrating factor is that it won’t be out of maliciousness or carelessness or a lack of consideration on his part. It’s just the differences in how you two are wired.

If you are bound and determined to give this a chance — even if it’s just being the mono partner to a poly person — then you’ll need to do your research. Check out Opening Up: A Guide to Creating and Sustaining Open Relationships by Tristan Taormino and Building Open Relationships: Your hands-on guide to swinging, polyamory, and beyond! by Dr. Liz Powell. See if there’s a poly group in your town, talk to folks, especially people who got started by dating someone who was poly… and see if this is right for you.

But it very well may not be. And that’s FINE; polyamory and non-monogamous relationships aren’t for everyone. It doesn’t mean that you’re somehow deficient or unworthy, it doesn’t mean that you don’t love your boyfriend enough or that there’s anything wrong with you or him. It just means that there’s a fundamental difference in what you need from your relationships and those differences are one where a compromise really isn’t possible.

But hey, maybe I’m wrong. Hopefully I am and the two of you can make this work. And if you can, then blessings on you both. If not… well, all I can say is that two years with a great guy is no small thing either.

Good luck.

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